People Lie

To tell you that cops lie is like telling you the sun rises in the east. A generation ago, people wouldn’t have believed, but today it’s so well known that it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. Then again, it’s so well known that many now believe that a cop couldn’t tell you the time of day without lying, just as ridiculously wrong as pretending cops don’t lie.

And to explain, yet again, that there are false accusations of sexual assault and rape seems too obvious for words. The reason for “believe women” started to blunt the assumption that when a woman accused a man, she was not to be taken seriously. Over time, it’s become that she can’t be doubted. So here we are, pretending women don’t lie.

But black people?

Rachel Richardson, a Black member of Duke’s volleyball team playing in a match at Brigham Young University, claimed that she and other Black teammates were “targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match,” such that they had to face a crowd amid which slurs “grew into threats.”

But a sporting match such as this one is attended by thousands and is well recorded, both professionally and also by anyone in attendance with a cellphone. To date, no one has offered evidence that corroborates Richardson’s claims of racist verbal abuse, either independently or as part of an investigation by B.Y.U. There is nothing comparable in the security footage or in the television feed the school took of the match. No one at the match representing either school has described hearing such a thing happening. No witnesses have been reported as coming forward.

John McWhorter goes to great pains to make two points clear. There is racism and he is not accusing Richardson of lying, even though the evidence is overwhelming, beyond overwhelming, that what she claims didn’t happen. Ironically, nowhere is there a mention of the fan who was blamed and barred for life for having screamed racist things at Richardson, which never happened. But I digress.

We indulge in mental gymnastics to come up with an explanation for the inexplicable. When that runs dry, the next level down involves the argument that it could have happened, it has happened in the past, and even if a lie, it should start a conversation.

The people making such claims appear to be thinking of horrors of the past and claiming that what supposedly happened to them shows that those horrors persist. It is difficult not to notice, for example, the parallel between Richardson’s claim and Jackie Robinson’s being called the N-word from the stands in the 1940s.

Of course, what happened to Jackie Robinson happened. What “happened” to Richardson didn’t. And what happened in the 80 or so intervening years to our society’s racial tolerance goes unmentioned.

I join McWhorter in emphasizing that nothing about this means there isn’t racism and racists, but that there are also lies and lying.

The classic, and perhaps officially inauguratory, example — and this is in no way to equate Richardson’s possible exaggeration to the prior, extraordinary event — was Tawana Brawley’s claim in 1987 to have been kidnapped and raped by a group of white men and then left in the woods wrapped in a garbage bag, covered with feces and scrawled with racial slurs. The sheer luridness of that scenario was always a clue that Brawley staged the whole thing, which she was proved to have done. A U.S. Justice Department report concluded that in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, Officer Darren Wilson did not callously shoot Michael Brown dead despite his having his hands up in surrender, despite Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson’s claim to that effect.

White lacrosse players at Duke did not rape a Black stripper at a party, despite the 88 Duke professors who published a newspaper ad implying the lacrosse players were guilty. And of course, the actor Jussie Smollett’s story that MAGA-hatted homophobic racists jumped him in the wee small hours and put a noose around his neck has not held water. Nor is it an accident that the scenario sounds less like real life than something that would have happened on the television soap opera “Empire” that Smollett was starring in.

Back when people, particularly judges, would challenge us to “explain” why a cop, who didn’t know the defendant from a hole in the wall and harbored no animus toward him, would lie to convict him, we had no good answer. How would we know why Officer Pantsafire lied? All we know was that he did.

People do bad things, and those bad things run the gamut of raping, shouting racist slurs and beating people in cuffs for no good, or lawful, reason and then claiming they resisted arrest and the officer feared for his life. One would hope we would learn something from Tawana Brawley, Duke Lacrosse or the great many claims of rape that weren’t. The lesson isn’t that bad things don’t happen, but that people also lie for reasons that can’t be explained.

While we must always be maximally aware that racism does still exist, we must also know that not all claims of racist abuse hold water and that being aware of this does not disqualify one from being an antiracist. True antiracists know that Black people exhibit the full scale of human traits and tendencies, including telling tall tales — and yes, even about matters involving racism.

People lie. Men are people. Women are people. Blacks are people. Whites are people. We’re all people, no matter what combination of intersectionality you raise. And people lie. Distinguishing between the truth and the lie matters, and if your bias is to believe regardless of the facts, then you empower liars.

16 thoughts on “People Lie

  1. Dan J

    To give a tiny amount of credit to BYU, they did un-ban the fan who was wrongly accused. Link if you want to permit a source

    I don’t understand why it is so difficult for companies/universities to say something like “We are aware of these allegations and are looking into it’ BEFORE they immediately jump to conclusions that frequently end up being incorrect. The legal implications of investigating first are zero while the legal implications of wrongly firing/banning/shit talking innocent people are significant. Or am I missing something here.

  2. PML

    One would have thought after the lacrosse players fiasco that they would have learned their lesson about this kind of thing and investigate another baseless accusation before jumping off another cliff.

  3. cthulhu

    It’s not politically correct to acknowledge ordinary human behavior in those who have been canonized purely due to membership in a certain group. And the “investigations” that reflexively follow these accusations are generally modeled on Beria’s dictum of “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime” (the recent firing of a tenured professor at Cleveland State is an excellent example).

  4. Mr. Ed

    “People lie. Men are people. Women are people. Blacks are people. Whites are people. We’re all people, no matter what combination of intersectionality you raise. And people lie. Distinguishing between the truth and the lie matters, and if your bias is to believe regardless of the facts, then you empower liars.”

    You are a proper grumpy asshole. But on too many occasions, you hit the nail. High ground is nice until it is a friend or family who is falsely accused. Then you see good people’s life destroyed.

    Ethical lawyers protect us from tyranny. Don’t get a swelled head. You are still an asshole.

  5. B. McLeod

    “I did not lie, although I did say some things that later seemed to be untrue.” — R.M. Nixon.

  6. Carlyle Moulton

    The problem with homo sapiens is that they have a strong tendency to see the world in terms of a Manachean conflict between absolute good and absolute evil. Their simplified pictures are in terms of coal cellar at midnight during a blackout black and snow fields on a cloudless day pristine white. What you are describing is the exchange what was black has become white and vice-versa. Humans need to develop the capacity to understand that the world is a complex place and that a picture in messy shades of brown and grey where which is the darker is uncertain is needed to represent reality.

    In every human mind there exists the US/THEM divide whic seperates legitimate life forms which are US from illegitimate ones THEM. Every such divide gives rise to an OTHERism. Racism is but one, when Yugoslavia broke up religion was the criterion to decide who needed to be murdered.

    When humans decide that a life form is other all empathy and sympathy for it is withheld and all its behaviours are viewd through a lens of very negative judgement.

    Yes people lie but only people like THEM not people like US.

      1. Carlyle Moulton

        SHG underneath the issues about which you often post lie deeper issues of human nature and philosophy. All religions attempt to address these issues and fail dismally because humans split their interpretation of the behaviour of other people (and indeed other life forms) according as to which side of US/THEM divide they classify them.

        It is not racism or sexism or any other ~ism that is the cause but the existence in the minds of most if not every human of a version of the US/THEM divide.

        This issue gets under my skin and I feel forced to try to highlight the underlying problems. So many of your posts provide excellent starting points. Unfortunately I probably don’t post early enough for others to see them.

  7. Nigel Declan

    Dr. Gregory House : It’s a basic truth of the human condition, that everybody lies. The only variable is about what…”

  8. CWSME

    You hit the nail on the head. People are no longer considered innocent until proven guilty in these scenarios; they are guilty…period. Everyone has implicit biases. This is not new or groundbreaking. What the legal/justice system has done is overcompensated for the biases you mentioned being rampant previously.

    Let’s use the most basic of scenarios. A female accuses a male of sexualLy assaulting her 3 years ago. Her statement is the only evidence supporting her claim. The accused male denies the allegations. His statement is the only evidence supporting his claim. This is no longer a situation where police use critical thinking skills. This is no longer a case where prosecutors use sound judgment regarding their ability to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt. This is all that is needed anymore to charge someone. Sure, in the end they may be exonerated, but they have already lost everything along the way. The “victim” also learns that the same laws and rules don’t apply to her.

    In every system that deals with the functioning of society the pendulum swings different ways over time. Sometimes it swings so far that there might not be a way back.

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